People underestimate both the effort and payoff of being a freelance writer. Because I hire writers all of the time (and am a writer myself), I can speak with confidence on a few factors that will make you employable as a writer. Here they are.
1. Make a Writer Portfolio
Recently, someone sent me a resume and I was like, “what am I looking at?” Here’s the thing: while your academic background definitely impacts your ability to write, I want to see how you actually make the sausage. I need samples. Relevant, recent samples.
When I firrrrrrst started freelancing, I would make them up. Not lie about them but just write pieces on things I found interesting so potential clients could see my work. If you don’t have a lot of client work under your belt, do that. If you do have client work, go through it and keep your writer portfolio current.
When I hire a new writer, here’s what I want to see in a writer portfolio:
A consistent, clear, plain voice.
No grammatical errors or obvious mistakes.
Range: give me some variety, if you have it.
I don’t want to just see stuff you’ve written; I want to see stuff that you think is good. That gives me a lot of insight into your mindset and abilities.
I’ll also say, if you are trying to be a professional copywriter, I don’t care if you have bylines. That’s largely a journalism thing and, in the copywriting game, we get that we’re always ghostwriting.
2. Find Copywriting Clients
It’s highly likely that you’ll launch your copywriting career in one of two ways:
Referrals from people you know.
Referrals may be possible if you have a pretty solid network of people, if you have a business or marketing background or if you are just brilliant and irresistible to other humans. You can put the word out that you want to be a freelance writer and are looking for work. If you’re smart, you’ll price yourself low to start out so you can put together a rocking portfolio. Truly talented writers can scale pretty fast into making a living with writing.
We may hate surrendering that 20%, but Upwork is the best place to find non-skeezy clients who will pay a decent rate for copywriting. You can also specify on Upwork (or similar platforms, but let’s face it, they’re the one everyone uses) what your level of competence is. That means potential clients can see if you’re Entry level, Intermediate or Expert. Most of what you need to handle happens directly on platforms like these, including billing and client communication. That can be useful if you’re just starting out.
3. Diversify Your Copywriting Skills
Blogging is where this conversation started, but blogging may only get you so far. Unless you head into enterprise spaces, the amount of money you can make on a single blog may eventually feel unsatisfactory to you. Plus, writing like 30-40 blogs a week can get old pretty fast. Even if you do dream of being a full-time, professional blogger, it’s useful to diversify your copywriting skills.
For my most qualified writers, I expect them to be able to handle all of the following with absolute competence:
SEO pillars (long-form blogs)
I made that last one up, but you can see that there are a lot of kinds of copy. Adding any of these to your repertoire will enhance demand for your services. It’s always worthwhile to develop related skills. Some copywriters even go full-on marketing professional and work on consultative capacities. After all, content is the lifeblood of marketing.
4. Maintain the Right Number of Copywriting Clients
By default, there is some play in the lifecycle of a copywriting client. Of course, sometimes you’ll hook up with a business that recognizes the value of a long-term content strategy. Other times, you’ll work for start-ups, write websites or craft copy for an ad campaign. Many of these are inherently short-term gigs. If you do favor that arrangement (and even if you don’t), you’ll need a strategy for a client pipeline.
Basically that just means, copywriters pretty much interview for a living. You will need a reliable way to replace short-term jobs and always be adding new clients. Of course, this is also true if you want to scale into something more than a solopreneur gig (it’s how I did it). Especially if you get off a matchmaking platform, it’s important that you have a plan for getting new copywriting clients.
5. Set Copywriting Rates
I differ with a lot of my colleagues on this. Some copywriters, IMHO, get too big for their britches and start legitimately ripping people off. Copy has a finite value. For instance, an ad campaign probably has a projected ROAS. This should factor into how much a client pays for copy. If your rates become extravagant, you may make bank but are you doing the right thing?
Anyway, I have strong feelings about the ethics of this. Whatever numbers you actually work with, set a reasonable copywriting rate that only goes up *when you deserve it.* In other words, once you’re actually better, once you can actually do more (see diversifying skills above), then you can ask for more money. If you ask for more money once you find out how much another writer makes, you’re kind of a jerk. Offer your writing as a service and a chance to grow. At any level, you can always grow, and clients are the ones who will give you the opportunity to do it.
Yes, you should make more money as time goes on. But don’t give up the joy of the craft or an awareness of the actual value of your copywriting skills.
Freelance Writing as a Job
Freelance writing can be a side hustle that becomes your main hustle. I would suggest that you learn as much as you can about copywriting, find a niche and get really good at what you do. The beauty of writing is that you are using words to connect humans to each other. That is a noble thing to do. If your heart is in the right place, you are a great communicator and you are always willing to learn, you can become a successful freelancer. Who knows? I might even hire you some day.